Student Voices: Meet Chalkbeat’s new fellows

Six high school students from New York City and Newark will share their stories in Chalkbeat.

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others thinking and writing about public education.

Prepare to see some new bylines on these pages, as Chalkbeat welcomes its new class of Student Voices Fellows. These teens, all of them public high school students in New York City and Newark, New Jersey, will write personal essays in Chalkbeat about their lives and schools.

Our newsroom piloted this fellowship last school year, and the six students who participated produced powerful, openhearted work. (You can read their essays here.) This year, we were thrilled to see such broad interest in this program. Hundreds of accomplished teens from across more than 70 New York City and Newark schools applied for a handful of spots.

Chalkbeat is proud to welcome these six students as our 2022-23 Student Voices Fellows. We can’t wait for you to read their work.

Fall Fellows

From left: Ashally De La Cruz, Enoch Naklen, and Dashawn Sheffield (Courtesy photos)

Ashally De La Cruz, New York City

Ashally (she/her/hers) is a senior at Central Park East High School. She was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to the United States when she was 5. A native Spanish speaker, she went from taking ESL classes in elementary school to enrolling in Honors and AP courses in high school. Ashally has taken part in Peer Group Connection, supporting freshmen during the transition to high school, and in CARA’s Youth Leadership program, helping other students navigate the college application process. At Central Park East, she works on the yearbook and participates in the liberation program, which focuses on social activism. Through this fellowship, Ashally hopes to inspire and show others they’re not alone in their experiences.

Enoch Naklen, New York City

Enoch (he/him/his) is a senior at the Brooklyn Latin School. He is a published writer and current youth leader for the advisory board on culturally responsive education at Youth Communication. Enoch also enjoys print and digital journalism; this past summer, he attended JCamp, a journalism training program. Naklen also plays basketball for his high school, helping to found and recruit members of a basketball club. Although it is challenging to share personal stories, Enoch said he writes to “provide a voice for those who may not have found theirs” and to “bring to life stories that otherwise would not have been recognized.”

Dashawn Sheffield, Newark

Dashawn (he/him/his) is a senior at North Star Academy Washington Park High School. He is a mental health advocate and is the founder and president of a student wellness council that educates students and faculty on the symptoms of mental health issues and promotes school-based mental health support; the council is active at three New Jersey high schools and a Georgia middle school. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, Dashawn works with local partners to organize community service events. He plans to double major in finance and political science in college and become an investment portfolio manager or a senator; he recently completed an internship with BlackRock. In his spare time, he enjoys reading classic literature, especially novels by Jane Austen and Herman Melville, and listening to Mariah Carey and Britney Spears. At Chalkbeat, he hopes to share stories promoting student wellness in underrepresented communities and expand his impact.

Spring Fellows

From left, Vanessa Chen, Jasmine Harris, and Karen Otavalo. (Courtesy photos)

Vanessa Chen, New York City

Vanessa (she/her) is a junior at Stuyvesant High School. She is a podcast editor and conversationalist at the Round Table, a Next Generation Politics Podcast dedicated to bridging the divides in our country through cross-partisan discussions. She has also organized multiple community events, including gatherings where Chinatown youth can bond, and protests against neighborhood displacement. Beyond her interests in social activism, Vanessa is the executive producer for her school’s theater community and is currently producing the fall musical, “Matilda.” As a Student Voices Fellow, she hopes to share her stories and bring awareness to a larger audience.

Jasmine Harris, New York City

Jasmine (she/her/hers) is a senior at Bronxdale High School at the Christopher Columbus campus in the Bronx. She is the daughter of immigrants, a mother from Cambodia and a father from Jamaica. Jasmine is a member of her school’s student council. She’s also an advocate with Youth Court, helping students who break the rules resolve issues safely in school. Jasmine has a passion for medical science, interns at Columbia University doing neuroscience lab research, and wants to become a dermatologist. During the summer of 2022, she studied abroad in Seoul, South Korea. In her spare time, she loves to bake (especially cinnamon rolls) and do nails. At Chalkbeat, she hopes to improve her writing and connect with like-minded peers to share stories and grow as a community.

Karen Otavalo, Newark

Karen (she/her) is a sophomore at Science Park High School. Originally from Ecuador, she moved to the U.S. when she was 11, and ever since then, she hasn’t stopped dreaming big. Karen serves as a youth board member for National Crittenton, an organization that helps girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth to overcome barriers. She also volunteers in the mentorship program at her high school. In her spare time, Karen likes to animate, draw, and read. In her writing for Chalkbeat, she hopes to give voice to marginalized women and share personal narratives related to opportunity, sexism, and education.